Medical Specialties: Orthopedics, Physical medicine & rehab

Clinical Definition

Bursitis is pain and swelling of the bursae, the small fluid-filled pads in or near the joints. Bursae help cushion any tissues that rub against or slide over hard bone. Pain and swelling are common symptoms of bursitis, and a person can have trouble moving his or her joints. Often caused by repetitive motions, bursitis may also result from direct injury or stress on soft tissues. Treatments may include rest, ice/heat, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,  corticosteroid injections, special exercises or physical therapy. People with infected bursae might need antibiotics; surgery may also be needed, albeit less likely.

In Our Own Words

Bursitis is an inflammatory condition involving fluid-filled sacs called bursae (i.e., the joint's natural cushioning compartments). During the condition, the bursae swell and can become painful.


Causes of bursitis may include repeated motions that place stress on the joint (e.g., repetitive motions in sports or household activities such as gardening), or an acute injury. While bursitis can occur in any bony area, it is most common in the elbow and knee. Systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout and certain infections can also trigger bursitis. 

Relevant Conditions
  • Arthritis
  • Overuse injury from sports
Common Types
  • Knee
  • Elbow
Side Effects
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling and inflammation around the joint
  • Decreased range of motion
Share this article
  • Harvard Health Publications. “Medical Dictionary of Health Terms.” http://www.health.harvard.edu/medical-dictionary-of-health-terms/a-through-c#B-terms. Accessed July 2013.
  • Aaron D., Patel A., Kayiaros S., et al. “Four Common Types of Bursitis: Diagnosis and Management.” Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21628647. Accessed July 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Bursitis.” http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Bursitis/hic_Bursitis.aspx. Accessed July 2013.
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